If organic growth is your goal as an entrepreneur, you will need to consider a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy at some point early on. For many businesses, this means hiring an SEO expert to manage this strategy for them. The problem is that most business leaders don’t know enough about SEO or their SEO needs to know how to write a good job description, ask relevant interview questions, or assess a candidate’s proficiency in this area.
3 steps to hire the right SEO expert for your business
Eli Schwartz, author of Product-Led SEO, has developed a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t during more than a decade of working as an SEO expert and consultant. His strategies have generated millions of dollars in revenue for some of the Internet’s top websites, and he has helped clients such as Shutterstock, WordPress, Blue Nile, Quora, and Zendesk execute highly successful global SEO strategies. As the head of SurveyMonkey’s SEO team, he grew the company’s organic search from just 1% of revenue to a key driver of global revenue.
“I’ve seen a lot of SEO job descriptions that don’t seem to know what they’re looking for,” Schwartz said. “Some have responsibilities that are ten years old, while others have impossibly high standards. You might want someone who understands content, project management, engineering, and analysis, but finding those divergent skills in one person? Unlikely.”
Based on his experience, the three steps to hiring an SEO expert are to assess your company’s needs, determine compensation, and write an effective job description.
1. Assess your company’s SEO needs
Start by taking a step back to get an idea of your company’s SEO needs. You don’t want to end up with a strong tactician but no one to develop the overall strategy, Schwartz advised. Most strategists have some tactical skills, but not all tactical people have strategic skills.
“The skill strengths of SEO professionals can be broken down into four distinct functional areas, which are product management, writing, technical, and public relations,” Schwartz said. “Who you should hire depends entirely on your company’s existing SEO skills and gaps.”
In most cases, Schwartz said that early-stage businesses should ideally hire a jack of all trades with varying product and marketing skills. In late-stage companies where the new hire will only work on SEO projects, prioritizing skill sets is critical. Finding someone who has experience and skills in all of these areas is not impossible, but it is not easy.
Schwartz said it’s much more effective to determine exactly what the business will need and where there is bandwidth to get things done. There is no perfect formula for how to hire and what skills to prioritize, as the details will always be individual to each company.
2. Properly calculate fair compensation
As evidenced by the diversity of skills and requirements, compensation for your first SEO marketer will cover a wide range. For this reason, Schwartz declined to state the “ideal salary” for this position, nor does he believe anyone should make such statements.
“From experience, I have never seen the many public surveys of SEO salaries align with actual internal compensation packages,” he said. “Therefore, I would take them with a pinch of salt.”
Large companies will have salary scales that place SEO managers within a job category with some of the most common placements being product management, product marketing, content producers, performance marketers, or online marketers. .
Smaller companies that don’t use formal compensation scales should align SEO salaries with one of the other more common job functions when establishing compensation packages. A pitfall to avoid is seeking to pay as little as possible, since “you get what you pay for!”
Another mistake that Schwartz says should be avoided at all costs is making any part of the salary variable based on a KPI. This will lead to the wrong incentives and will not help prioritize your SEO efforts in the right direction for long-term sustainable growth.
“I’ve seen SEO bonuses align with link metrics, ranking positions, search clicks, and even revenue,” he shared. “It always caused far-reaching and long-term negative impacts.”
3 steps to hire the right SEO expert for your business
3. Write a detailed job description
What is the ultimate goal that you want an SEO expert to help you achieve? Schwartz said the answer to this question will be the basis of your job description.
Looking to launch a new site? Grow your content or organic visibility? Once you’ve defined your goal, try to break down the steps that might be required to get there. These will be the specific requirements that should be in the job description.
For example, understand what kind of report might be needed to know when that goal is reached and it requires familiarity with that tool. You also need to decide what kind of hard skills the person needs. If you want a link builder, you don’t need math knowledge. If you want a technical SEO specialist, you don’t have to be a great communicator.
Know if you want to hire a senior or junior, and include the appropriate years of experience. Understand what types of previous jobs provide the ideal foundation for your hiring. Do they need experience in a large company? Agency? Early stage company? Finally, you can include other skills that are nice to have, as long as you make it clear that they are not requirements.
“Proper preparation will make reviewing resumes and deciding who to hire much easier,” Schwartz said. “Because you’ve clearly defined what the new hire will do once they’re on board, it’s also going to be much easier to make the decision on who the best candidate is.”
Remember that SEO is done by humans
As you begin this process, remember that “good SEO is done by humans, for humans.” For good SEO, it is absolutely necessary to have the right people. That’s why Schwartz recommends that you find the person or people you can imagine owning your company’s future success.
Hire someone who can operate beyond the limits of your typical digital marketer and who demonstrates adaptability and creativity. They will take your SEO far beyond what you thought possible, so be careful and diligent to find people you can trust for this big task.
“Anyone with a modicum of SEO knowledge could do an SEO audit or create a keyword list,” Schwartz explained. “However, it takes a unique person to be able to combine customer empathy with layered creativity in SEO knowledge.”